Contact Binary

04 - Deicide

High above the floating island on the back of a dragonfly, Aze sees a clearer image of the state of the world. Thousands of islands like this float above the æthereal indigo depths, some larger, some tiny fragments, some thriving with plantlife, some overgrown completely with crystalline mineral structures. They each float at different angles. Some rotate chaotically. Some seem to orbit each other. No sun shines on this world, but a single light source glows above them, coming from the largest island, highest in the sky--the moon.

As they approach the huge grey disc, it’s clear that it being a moon at all was an illusion. A change of perspective reveals it to be a flat plane, a circular island, far bigger looking than Ida. The image of a tree spanning the island is a series of long serpentine valleys and dark plains. An endless grey desert flies by above their heads at incredible speed as they draw closer to a huge crater near the center of the disc, centered where the base of the tree icon’s trunk joins with the roots. Its walls are mountains far taller than any on Aze’s world, of grey stone and white crystal devoid of life. And in the center shines a bright star-like point of light, where all the world’s light seems to radiate from.

There, in the middle of the great crater, a massive mountain of bare grey rock and jagged crystal growths looms over the world, upside-down from their perspective. Their ride approaches a secondary crater at the mountain’s peak. They flip over as they cross the rim, turning the world upside down as gravity’s illusory pull now draws them toward the great isle. But the indigo-purple sky above and the orange ring of horizon-glow around remains the same.

Inside they see a vibrant sanctuary of life--green gardens and trees and colorful pastel flowers, and humanoid avatars walking about in the warm sunlight. Either human minds or very convincing constructs, they look up at the approaching dragonfly swarm.

A smaller mountain peak of nearly solid crystal marks the center of the crater, and on top of that, a massive tree almost as tall as the hill it stands on. Its bark glows with a golden light, touched by the world’s light source--a crystal orb of light too bright to look at, held high in the branches. Its limbs are moving as the riders draw near, slowly covering up the sunlight orb and bringing dusk to the world.

Flickering lights flash to life from cave openings in the rim of the crater and large rocky outcroppings interspersed in the flat caldera. Torches of white æthereal fire light up as night falls, tracing branching pathways between the verdant garden patches. Above--what was below a moment ago--the horizon glow fades and the star patterns of circuit constellations appear, reminding them however real this place feels, they are still dissociated deep in the æther.

Their ride comes to a landing on a rocky platform near the base of the central tree trunk. The crystal walls here shimmer with light and shadow that flow across it like water. Once the pilot of their insect dismounts, she pulls on the rope tied to both of her captives’ wrists to force them to follow.

Other girls emerge from openings in the mountainside, avatars a little younger looking, without heavy chitin armor or battle-masks, and dressed in leaf-woven skirts, with leaf-armor bracers around their forearms and shins. They take the reins of the beasts and lead them into a larger cavern, while the warriors surround Aze and Rozenn, with short crystal spears in hand, and lead them into a person-sized entrance. One of the riders picks up a torch from the wall and its tip bursts into white starlight flame.

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > They’re all using technopathy.

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > yeah. I realized when their spears touched my shield, there was nothing cosmetic about them

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > Then why not just open a gate to get us here?

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > maybe intimidation, a show of force by taking us captive Old Earth style?

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > Is this your idea of Earth?

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > I kind of assumed it’s based on Earth? besides the floating islands and shit obviously. but ain’t it something like this? they got trees, water, sunsets, the Moon...

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > This is NOT Earth.

A passage through the labyrinthine corridors inside the crystal mountain eventually opens up into a large chamber. Above, a fixture of glowing gems lights the room, tied to wooden branches, or roots, sprawling out from the peak of the ceiling. A swarm of grey moths circles the glowing lights in chaotic orbits. An elaborate mosaic of colored ceramic tiles decorates the walls of the circular chamber, showing warriors like the ones who captured them, and other people unknown.

A second delegation emerges from another corridor to greet the warriors as they arrive, three girls with avatars like young adults, dressed in elegant flowing robes of some sheer white and grey fabric, with thicker fabric fanning out behind them like the wings of moths. The lead girl carries a staff affixed with a glowing gem and wears a circlet of woven green vines on top of her black hair, with two branching twigs sticking up from it like antennae. Her avatar’s light brown skin is marked with white tattoos that glow in the light as if it were ultraviolet. Her eyes are the same reflective white.

The riders stop and bow before her.

“Caught some interesting prey on your hunt, have you?” she says in a loud, commanding voice.

The lead rider rises. “More outsiders, High Priestess.”

“Good girl, Maikoa. Stand down,” the high priestess says. She looks directly to the captives. “I am Antheræa, High Priestess of Gaia. Why have you come here?”

Rozenn speaks directly to Aze:

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > How do we even answer that?

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > uhh I’ll give it a shot, I’ve read this kind of story

Aze addresses the High Priestess, “We come in peace, High Priestess, only to search for our missing comrades. Your warriors, brave and valiant though they are, attacked us without warning, and we defended ourselves.”

“High Priestess!” the lead rider says. “We followed your directive. We saw them appear from heaven’s gate, bodies of metal and flesh, servants of the dead ones. We subdued them as you command.”

“Is it so, are you servants of the old ones?! Are there more of you? I shall know if your words deceive!” she says as a large grey moth comes to land on Aze’s head, peering down on its face with crimson eyes.

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > Be careful, constructs like these are sensitive to our emotions and intent.

“I serve only myself, and we two have come alone,” Aze says. “We know nothing of your world or your society, and mean it no harm, and come only on the mission I stated. Your familiar will find no deceit in my words, High Priestess. We only defended ourselves from unidentified attackers. You’ll find we prioritized retreat and did them no harm.”

The moth flies back to land on High Priestess Antheræa’s shoulder. “It seems you are honest. Yet Maikoa speaks true as well, outsiders of your form are dangerous.”

“In the world I come from, people like me aren’t the ones to be feared,” Aze says.

“History tells us otherwise!” The high priestess points her staff at the mural on the walls, shining a beam of light upon the far end.

The mosaic depicts what looks like the avatars of technopaths, adorned with glowing lights and metal plates. Above them stands three taller figures, more machine than girl, their faces obscured by masks of wires. “Since time forgotten, Dactyl lived under the cruel sorcery of the Old Gods! Perhaps you are not their servants. But it matters not if you were, for we fear their kind no longer!”

She moves her light to the next image, showing girls like her and her companions, conjuring fire, lightning, and snow, while groups of warriors mounted on insects guard them. “The day came, as foretold, when the power of magic awakened within mortal blood. Fearless, we faced the Old Gods, and by our sorcery and cunning we slew all three, and their servants with them!”

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > The admins?

????-?-???? ???:?? Aze > I thought they must be dead. seems they were murdered...

????-?-???? ???:?? Rozenn > These are clearly strong technopaths, why haven’t they appointed a successor?

Aze speaks, “An impressive feat, deicide, I’ve known many on my world who would like to kill some gods themselves. But it seems like your world is falling to pieces in the absence of the gods.”

“You are not wrong,” she says. “Our victory came at a price. The structure of the world is breaking down. The land is fragmented, day and night are bleeding into one, the stars themselves are askew. A time of great hardships we endured, but now the world’s healing has begun!”

Her light shines on the next image, showing the great tree atop the mountain, enveloped in an aura. “The dead ones were mere interlopers, pretenders! In our darkest hours, we prayed to heaven for any being that could hear us to save our world. It was Gaia who answered, the true Goddess of the world, kept suppressed by the old ones just as we were. Now Gaia dwells among us! The world’s healing is slow, but we see it more every day. Gaia heals the land, and grants us the magic to defend it!”

Aze speaks to the priestess, “What of our friends? Did they come here?”

She shines her light on the next image. More technopaths of cyborg form step out from what looks like an æther gate, confronted by the priestesses and warriors. “Just as the Goddess revealed Herself to us, so did the outsiders arrive. Like you, we took them for servants of the dead ones, and brought them here as captives. I was about to order their execution, but I felt compelled to pray to the Goddess first. It was She who told me to spare them, let them join our village instead, if they wished. Some chose to betray their gods and join us. Others resisted, and met their death.”

The final panel shows the priestesses, entranced beneath the great tree, and the technopaths, above them in the sky building a machine of some kind. “They brought with them the knowledge of heaven. We permit them to use it to help heal the world, but we do not dare take its power lightly.”

She swings her staff around to shine her light directly on Aze and Rozenn. “And now two more arrive. Why, I wonder, have they come? Have they come to aid us in restoring life to the world, or to destroy all which we have built?”

“Neither!” Aze says. “Only to find our missing ones.” It points to the last image of the mural. “Those who came before us. Can we talk to them?”

“High Priestess!” the lead rider Maikoa speaks. “We cannot afford carelessness, just when the world is starting to heal! This could be a trap, agents of the enemy!”

The High Priestess approaches her and takes her hand. “I value your willingness to speak your mind, Maikoa, that is why I named you captain of the dragonriders.” She turns back toward the captives. “I must not presume to make such judgment alone. I will commune with the Goddess before deciding your fate. For now, my orders are thus: the invaders shall walk free.”

Two of the moths glide down to rest on Aze and Rozenn’s bound hands, and with tiny mandibles they chew through the æthereal ropes, releasing them.

“But you may not leave the village. You will use none of your heavenly sorcery. The dragonriders will keep eyes on you. Do not defy these boundaries, and no harm will come to you until my judgment is passed.”

“Understood,” Aze says.

“Wait!” Rozenn says. “Can I ask just one thing of you?”

“Ask it,” she says.

“The ones who came before us, was there one among them named Maiwenn?! Does she still live?!” Rozenn asks.

“I will give you no further information until my judgment is made,” she says. “Maikoa, I put them in your charge. They may freely explore the village. The only place they are forbidden to go is the inner sanctum of the temple.”

“Yes, High Priestess!” Maikoa says. “Where shall I take them?”

Aze answers, “I wanna see some fuckin’ plants.